Better oral care improves patient’s drug abuse recovery

Local News

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – The power of your smile is more important than you might think. It even surprised some researchers at University of Utah Health when they found just how vital it comes to recovering from drug abuse.

Just ask Destiny Garcia who went from being homeless because of her drug addiction to working in the front desk of the Salt Lake County’s Mayor’s Office.

You would never know by looking at Destiny Garcia that she was living on the streets as a drug addict, not long ago.

“I was a heroin addict. A meth addict sleeping in a park when I got arrested. I felt like trash like I belonged there. I did not want to do that anymore. What else was I going to do?”

Thanks to Operation Rio Grande she was arrested and sent to treatment and lucky for her Professor Glen Hanson was in the middle of a first-of-its-kind groundbreaking study.

Dr. Hanson, University of Utah Health School of Dentistry, was leading a study called FLOSS to integrate oral care with substance use disorder patients.

“Because if you look at people with drug abuse problems 50% have major oral health issues,” said Hanson. 

U of U dental students worked on several hundred clients going through drug treatment programs at the Odyssey House and First Step House, giving people like Destiny hope.

Dr. Hanson who also has an extensive background in drug abuse research says the longer people stay in treatment the greater success for patients not relapsing.

After three years, the research found clients were staying twice as long as those who did not receive dental care.

“That was one thing that kept me there; I was going to get new teeth,” said Destiny.

There was an 80% increase in completing treatment.

“This is an incredible impact on this population usually if you can get 10 to 15% you think you’ve died and gone to heaven. This is like 100 to 200% increase. It was a wow impact,” said Hanson. 

Dr. Hanson says they were working with the most difficult substance abuse clients in our community.

“So, now they can eat, not just drink soda pop and liquids but healthy foods, meat, veggies.”

Researchers found a positive impact on employment, sobriety, homelessness, all because of better teeth.
Destiny went from not wanting to be seen to being the first person you see walking into the Salt Lake County mayor’s office and the last as you walk out.

“Now, I don’t stop smiling,” said Destiny. 

This has been a win-win all around. Dental students have bonded over these patients and learning compassion for this population.

Dr. Hanson’s research has now turned into a policy after convincing Utah lawmakers and lobbying to get Medicaid to continue a program similar to FLOSS called TAM.

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